Mussel mania: Seafood paella

Back in 2007, I visited Valencia as part of a school trip to Spain and the city has always stood out as one of the undoubted highlights.¬†Beaches drenched in sunlight and an inviting climate were accentuated by the carefree, laid-back joie de vivre of a people who know their national football team is on the cusp of world domination. It’s just a great place to be all round.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that Spain’s national dish, paella, hails from this very city. Although paella comes in all sorts of styles and combinations, Valencia’s coastal proximity is a big hint as to why the seafood variety remains one of the most classic and identifiable.

Naturally, I had to give it a crack – here’s how I found the experience.

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Like a shy introvert at a cocktail party, those mussels will be opening up by the end of the night.

Preparation

The first step is to prepare the mussels. Clean the shells thoroughly, holding them under running water and carefully scraping off the grit with a knife. Debeard the mussels by grabbing onto the threads poking out from the shells and twisting and pulling them free. Set your mussels aside in the fridge until you add them in at the very end.

Dice one whole onion and mince two cloves of garlic. Cut up a chorizo sausage into thin slices (I cheated and bought a pre-sliced pack).

The base

20150815_120640
The beginning of something great.

Start by tossing the onions, garlic and chorizo into an oiled pan on a medium heat, cooking until the onions are browned. Ever since I started cooking I’ve always been of the opinion that one of the greatest smells is that of garlic and onion frying in the pan. Adding chorizo to the mix only makes it better.

Mix in about a teaspoon of paprika and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric just before you add two cups of short-grain rice (arborio is a popular option). Stir for about a minute until the rice is just slightly toasted and translucent and everything looks nicely yellowed, like this:

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Getting there…

Next, add about two cups of warm water and a whole can of diced tomatoes. Don’t be alarmed because the end result looks nothing like a paella.

What.
What.

If you’ve cooked risotto before, it’s pretty much the same deal. Wait till the rice has absorbed all the liquid, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the pan (more on this later). Once it’s been absorbed, add a bit more water, stir and wait. Repeat this process until the rice is just about cooked.

Order has been restored.
Order has been restored.

Bring in the seafood

Now here comes the good part. Stir in some marinara mix, making sure the odd bits and pieces are evenly tucked away in the midst of the rice, and spread the mussels around the pan.

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Cover the pan completely, and all you have to do now is wait till all the mussels open up (this can take anywhere between five and 10 minutes).

Watch this space.
Watch this space.

As a final step, garnish with some chopped parsley and place some lemon wedges around the pan.

The end result

Flawless presentation; impeccable taste. Would cook again AAA+++.

Top tips

  • Purists will tear you apart if you dare to mix seafood and chorizo in one paella. I’ve actually watched paella recipe videos on YouTube where the presenter apologises in advance because what he is about to make isn’t a “true” Spanish paella. At the end of the day, it’s your food and you can add whatever in the world you care to. Throw in some baked beans if you want to.*
  • It is perfectly natural for some of the rice to burn and stick to the bottom and sides of the pan. In fact, the Spanish even have a word for this – socarrat – and for many it’s actually the best part of the dish. Some traditional cooks turn up the heat to full blast right at the end just to get this effect.
Goodness me.
Goodness me.

*Please don’t actually add baked beans to your paella.

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